History In The Headlines

Did George Washington Knock Back a Cold One Here?

By Elizabeth Nix
In October 2013, preservationist Adam Woodward visited the site of a commercial building in lower Manhattan being demolished to make way for a high-rise hotel, and in the basement came upon a potentially important discovery: possible remnants of the Colonial-era Bull’s Head Tavern, where General George Washington stopped in 1783 after the Revolutionary War had ended and the last of the British troops were leaving New York. Learn more about this possible historic find and what might be done to preserve it.

washinton statueEstablished in the mid-18th century, the Bull’s Head Tavern was located on the outskirts of the city (which at the time consisted solely of Manhattan) in an area that featured a slaughterhouse and served as a butcher’s district. The tavern stepped into history on November 25, 1783, when Washington and his troops stopped there as they made a victorious return to the city. Earlier that day, the British, who had occupied New York after their triumph at the Battle of Long Island and the Continental army’s retreat in 1776, finally left town. (The war had come to an official end the previous month with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.) For more than a century afterward, New Yorkers celebrated November 25 as Evacuation Day in commemoration of the departure of the British.

The Bull’s Head eventually closed, and the building was used for a stove factory. Starting in 1858, the renovated site became home to the Atlantic Garden, a popular beer hall that remained open until the early 20th century. (One of the venue’s claims to fame is that the song “Daisy Bell/Bicycle Built for Two” was launched there in the early 1890s.) Most recently, the building, whose present-day address is 50 Bowery, housed a drugstore and several Chinese restaurants.

The 1.25-mile long Bowery is Manhattan’s oldest thoroughfare and has seen its fortunes rise and fall and rise again. The name Bowery comes from the Dutch word for farm, a reference to the farms located in the area in the 17th century. By the early 1800s, the Bowery was considered a ritzy address but by the middle of the century the neighborhood was on the decline. During the mid-20th century it was home to flophouses and so-called Bowery bums but by the 1990s, the neighborhood was on the upswing.

As for 50 Bowery, although the building had been expanded and altered over time, there was speculation among historians that structural evidence of the Bull’s Head’s remained inside. After preservationist Adam Woodward heard that 50 Bowery was slated for demolition, he snuck into the site in October 2013 to check it out before it was too late. There in the basement he found what he believes are hand-hewn and hand-planed joists and beams that date to the 18th century and were part of the Colonial-era tavern.

New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission soon learned about Woodward’s discovery, but the group lacked the authority to stop the demolition process. However, it’s recently been reported that the owner of 50 Bowery has agreed to hire a company to conduct an archaeological study of the site. The owner hasn’t made any public statements or spoken to the media, though, so the status of such a study is unknown. Until then, word about Washington’s watering hole awaits.

To see photos of what could be remnants of the Bull’s Head Tavern, click here.

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Categories: Beer, George Washington, New York City